17 March 2013

The Heroes of Urgek-Lesh, Part II

(If you've missed it, the first part can be found here. It'll probably help you understand what I'm talking about.)

Your choice (in the last post: whether to keep adventuring, take a position with the local soldiery, or strike it out on your own) depends on what kind of game you want to play. In essence, at this point, you're being asked whether you want to keep on doing what you're doing, or whether you want to do something else. Furthermore, it's asking you if you want to skip the middle step (working your way up the chain and attempting to grab the reigns from there if you like) and go right to the "Let's just rule it on our own, then."

And you can make whatever choice you'd like to make. It's completely open, because all three of those choices are completely acceptable. Seriously, you can do all of them. But there's a couple of things that will conspire against choice one.

First, you're increasingly famous. Doesn't that just encourage you to keep adventuring, though? Well, yes and no. Yes, because it's a very obvious reward that you're being given increasingly cushy treatment from people. Stay here, hero, and drink of my wine. Stay in my own home, sleep in my guest bed, and share in my feast. Please, adventurer, the meal is on this poor tavern-keeper's dime, please, enjoy! Part of the fun of being an adventurer is that you do get to be famous, and it's fun to have people almost beg for you to take their free stuff.

What people don't always realize is that these people aren't being nice just to be nice. They always want something. That's how people work The tavern-man just wants to be able to swap stories, probably, build a reputation, and be able to brag about who was just here last week, you wouldn't believe it, but!, and they probably wouldn't mind a nice tip. They know you've got the gold, after all.

The lord who gives the hero a nice bed and a feast expects something in return, too. It might just be advice. It might be a job offer. And it might be a very good job offer indeed. Knighthood, a good horse, a parcel of land, all in exchange for just keeping an eye over a troublesome region. Household guards. Maybe even a small army, and an offer to turn a frontier into the players' own fief. And why not, the player wonders? There'd be plenty of excitement, an opportunity to get plenty of money, and when the wanderlust strikes him, he'll find a way to sneak off and have an adventure or two, right?

And so it begins. The player finds that he can't trust his regent, or that things require a more personal touch, or that the person he's placed is incompetent or doesn't understand what he's trying to do. Or maybe his fief turns out to be nearly worthless, a real barren plot of land, and now he's got to figure out what to do with these angry, hungry peasants. Or maybe he's being invaded, and now he's got to break the siege!

Secondly, like in real life, there's a lot of stuff to do, and so plenty of jobs to be had by wandering from village to village... but, like in real life, the people who need help the most are the ones who are least able to pay. People will ask things of your characters that are beneath their notice. They're not going to slay a cheating husband or find a lost goat, because those are not interesting and they're not even getting paid. A village might love to have a troll removed from a nearby forest, but they just don't have any money...

Or maybe they might lie about exactly how much money they do have, so the adventurers find themselves working entirely too hard for entirely too little. And when getting injured means that you're lying in bed for a week, or months (while the entire time, the innkeeper is asking for rent - "You were a great help, it's just that the harvest has been bad and there haven't been any travellers and, well, tavern keepers have families too," and it wouldn't be a problem to pay him except the damn town hasn't paid you a single bent copper yet, and the whole reason you were travelling was because you didn't have much money...), it means that you're no better off when you got there than when you left! You're wandering around, helping people from the good of your heart, when you realize that there's got to be a better way!

So you go to the guy who's supposed to be taking care of the place (probably some sort of Hersir or Jarl, right?) and you bust into his hall and demand an audience and you're not used to taking no for an answer. You tell him who you are, but he doesn't care- some wandering fools are of no concern to him! And you tell him what's going on and ask him why he hasn't done anything about making anything any better, and he waves you away and tells you that he's doing the best he can, but soldiers cost money and there simply isn't enough to go around, and it's more important that he defend his hall because, after all, without a king who will defend them from the real threats? And you notice that his table's feast isn't any poorer for his claims of being poverty-stricken, and half of his personal guards are looking at you with an odd look that tells you that you'd really better be getting out of here. You hatch a plan- we've got to depose this guy and put somebody else in charge, somebody who's going to do a better job!

And who could be better than the players?


The best part is, this fits nearly anywhere, no matter what sort of world you've got. If you've got a world where being rich means owning a horse and a sword (like in the real-life ancient ages), then it's easy to have this happen, because finding a treasure cache means that the players are the richest people in the region, and with no magic items to spend it on, all that's left is building, trading, and other Big World activities. I mean, what else are you going to spend 30,000 gold on if not a castle, mercenaries, livestock, ships and all? And won't the local king notice? He'll demand his taxes and then offer to give you some land (since it's better than you using all that money to try and depose him, because even if you don't succeed, being attacked is not particularly fun), and look at you now. Welcome to the feudal system, Baron.

If you're playing in a game (like a lot of modern fantasy games like Pathfinder or D&D 4th edition) where the players chance upon small mountains of gold every time they kick over a goblin's house, well, that's easy, too. All you have to do is take away the gold-sinks that are traditionally there. This has the added benefit of getting rid of the silliest parts of the game (does anybody realize that 10,000 in solid gold coins weighs 180 lbs? Why does every ogre have a +1 sword and +3 chain mail?) it also means that your players will have to do something other than increase their raw character effectiveness with their money.

Of course, given the massive inflation that happens when you have multiple fungible types of currency, you've also got to inflate the prices on livestock, because the people with the +4 swords and 12 levels in Warlock probably could buy up an entire country's worth of sheep if you use anything resembling real-life prices, but it's still possible. Just think in terms of Zimbabwean hyper-inflated dollars, except without the whole "we'll just print bigger numbers on them," since gold coins are mostly valuable for their metal content instead of what's printed on them.

Pictured: A beggar in D&D 4.0 Modern, cashing in to buy a slice of bread
So, again, what happens is that people have to do something with their money, even if it's just hoarding it. And what happens if they hoard it? 

Funny you should ask. 

People start to follow them around. They attract thieves and beggars. But more than that, probably, are people wanting loans. Some of them will be asinine, but some will be legitimate. Barons asking for a loan to hire mercenaries to win a war. "I'll repay you when we win, " he promises, "plus more!" Or merchants, wanting to fund a new fleet of ships, since their old ones were ruined in a great storm. A sage funding an expedition to recover an ancient artifact from a forgotten crypt, the recovery of which will advance our understanding of the ancient Lords of High Querra. 

Some of these sound like adventures, and they kind of are, still. But they're an adventure where the player is in charge of people, working with people. They're bigger adventures- they take place in the Big World, not in the small world of dungeons and delving. 

Even if they say no to every debtor, they still have to spend it. And so now the players are engaging in what they like. Maybe they commission a ship and become pirates, and stash their treasure somewhere safe, just in case. Maybe they purchase a house, somewhere discreet, reinforce it, and hire watchmen. But is it good enough? What if a burglar makes a routine break-in (if it's got guards, it must be something good!) and finds more treasure than he knows what to do with? Well, what do players do to safeguard their haul now?

Would a castle work? Welcome again, Baron. Glad you could join the feudal system.

So what do you do now? The players are used to thinking about things in terms of progression, and removing the carrot means that some people aren't going to want to play. After all, the most popular game in the world (World of Warcraft) hinges its entire business strategy on the fact that players just love that treadmill. People get addicted to the feedback and so play for months or even years after they've stopped finding enjoyment in the game mechanics or the social aspect. And there's nothing wrong with that! Getting a reward for putting all that work into beating down an enormous monster is very satisfying.

Don't worry, I've got a solution.

I'll talk about it in a minute. 

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